Winter Light

Painting in winter is tricky. The days are short and the weather uncertain. I did this sketch in January. By the time I had finished at 3pm the light was fading.  Yet there is light and colour. The shadows are deeper but the green grass and orange sky are still bright.

It is summer now but our country feels like winter. We are waking up to another terrorist attack. It feels closer to home as it is in an area of London we know well, a lively jumble of shops, offices and cafes surrounding Borough Market and Southwark cathedral. There will be thousands of words written on this, as there was on the recent Manchester attack and I don’t have any solutions. But all I want to say is:

In winter the world is not dead. There is still life. And summer will come. 

Why I am a (straight) pro-gay Christian 

So, let’s start with some definitions:

  • Straight. In this context this means heterosexual. Which I definitely am. And married. But straight could also mean normal, conforming to society. I’m not sure I’m that.
  • Pro-gay. I struggle with generalising about groups of people. But I am definitely pro the gay people I’ve known. And the ones I know about from the media and those I will get to know.
  • And Christian. In some ways the hardest thing to define. It’s a word with a great deal of baggage. Maybe it’s easier to say I’m a follower of Jesus and a member of a church. The two go together and one feeds into the other but they are not exactly the same.

In some ways I wish I didn’t need to write this blog. It will upset some people I know and I’m sorry for that. But the stakes are very high. There is a battle going on for the very soul of the church in the UK. At the moment it could be lost because we are simply too polite to have an argument.

Before I answer the question I would like to clarify what seems to be the orthodox Christian position on homosexuality. Recently I had a long conversation with a well known Pastor and this was his position. It certainly won’t be every Christian’s opinion and I think it is at the extreme end of Christian thought but here it is:

  • Sex between two men or two women is always wrong under all circumstances. 
  • Gay marriage is not marriage at all. Marriage must always be between a man and a woman.
  • Homosexual sex is such a serious sin that any gay man wanting to become a Christian must either be ‘cured’ of the condition or agree first to to complete celibacy.

Our conversation went on for a long time and involved a lot of complicated theology. But as it went on I became more and more convinced that all the anti-gay arguments didn’t add up to anything. A quick google search will find them for you if you’re interested. So, why am I a pro-gay Christian?

Firstly, because God made us and He made us sexual beings. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be careful, considerate and faithful sexual beings. I’m a great believer in marriage. But he made us gay and straight and all shades in between. As Christians we should be helping people be the best they can be, whatever that is, not turning them away.

Secondly, because I know what it is to grow up feeling very different and out of place. I used to look at the popular pretty girls and think ‘How do they do that?’  Because I wasn’t popular and pretty. I was awkward, clever, plain and argumentative. It’s really hard not to fit in, especially when you are young and for that reason those who grow up gay, who often find themselves in a hostile world that they don’t fit into get my compassion not my condemnation. Jesus didn’t give many commands. He taught more using stories and also by example. But, less than 24 hours before he hung on a cross, He gave this command: Love one another as I have loved you. He loved without barriers, even thieves and prostitutes. There is no record of Jesus meeting a gay person or talking about homosexuality but I don’t know of any reason why he wouldn’t have loved them too.

And thirdly because it is simply not our place to judge. This Jesus talking again, from the Message version which is very vivid but all translations have the same sense.

““Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭7:1-5‬ ‭MSG‬‬

This isn’t easy ‘liberal’ theology. This is hard Jesus theology because we love to judge. Gay people are easy to identify, easy to see but that doesn’t mean we should judge them either.

I want to end with a little thought experiment. Imagine one Sunday all the people coming to church had all their sins for the week written in brightly coloured letters hovering over their heads. Here is a selection:

  • I shouted at my kids because I’d had a stressful day at work.
  • I had a minor accident with a parked car and drove away without leaving a note.
  • I had sex with my long term boyfriend even though we are not married.
  • I spent £300 on a treat for myself and didn’t give anything to the church.

Just for this week it’s the job of the stewards to decide who gets in and who is too sinful even to enter the church. Of course it would be horrible both for the judges and the judged. When I think of our lovely stewards I think they would just let everyone in and, after reading the first few lists, would refuse to even look. And that would be the right Christian response.  It is simply not up to us to refuse entry to God’s kingdom on the basis of any sin.

I know there are a lot of Christians who share my views. I’m sure to get a lot criticism for writing this but if you agree with me please let me know.

Creating a better image?

By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see.

Hebrews ch. 11 v3 (Message translation)

From time to time I spend a weekend in Oxford learning theology from some of the best teachers on the planet. The last time I did this we had a session on creation. This was good and helpful but during the Q&A my mind wandered and I noticed a huge tree in the window behind the teacher. In early spring there were no leaves yet and I began to look at the way it was put together, the patterns of twigs and branches, the light behind it.

“How” I asked, “Did God make that tree? Had he created it like a sculptor, twig by twig. Or is there some sort of beech tree template? Or is it just the result of blind evolution?”

To give them their due they took the question seriously. But it soon became clear that there was no theology that explains how the natural world is put together, no theology of beauty. Maybe we’ve just never needed one before. Until recently, it was just incredibly hard to reproduce an image. To reach more than a few people took huge amounts of time and money. But now we are bombarded with images and almost all of these are photos. Photos seem to accurately reflect what we see but they hardly ever do. Mostly, they present us with a flat, frozen version of reality.

Recently, me and my son visited an exhibition of modern portraits. One of the things that really struck me was how little colour was in most of them. Although they were painted with incredible skill they had the same look as most photos, a bit flat and colourless. A few of them looked like real paintings and it was one of these that won the competition.

And it seems to me we do need a theology of beauty, of what it means to see the world. But I’m not sure this needs to be written down. Maybe it just needs to be painted. As the writer of Hebrews says – what we see created by what we don’t see.

We need to create better image.

More quiet time at the pond…

It’s been a hard week, with plenty of pressure at work so today I went back to the pond to find some peace. I wasn’t the only one. There were plenty of people around enjoying the afternoon sunshine. 

Painting on the iPad is very different from real painting and it could take a while to find a style, but I’m enjoying the experimentation.

Finding quiet time…

One of the things we are looking at in our church is ‘quiet time’. Traditionally this means reading the Bible, with a study guide for a period each day. With my new iPad I found my own quiet time sitting by the pond in Priory Park. There was a lot going on in the park, a lot of people coming and going for a community fair, but it all melted away as I looked at the light on the pond and trees. 

In this period of uncertainty it’s more important than ever to find some quiet time, however we do it. I’m all in favour of Bible study but I may just be going back to the pond to do another painting.

A picture for the referendum

image My blog output has been really light recently. This is partly because the technology at home has been getting slower and also because I have been spending more time doing art. But now I have an iPad I can combine the two. This is an image I’ve had in my head of what Europe could be. No more explanation. Just look at the picture.

Painting and the missing soul

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Two quite significant things have happened to me in the last two weeks. The first was that I finished this painting. Its difficult to be completely happy with any portrait, there is always something more that can be done. But I feel I have turned a corner and, finally, I’ve found a style that makes sense.

The second thing is that I spent a long weekend in Oxford studying Christian Apologetics (which is just a fancy way of saying modern theology) and I came away with a new book by Alister McGrath – ‘Inventing the Universe’. Its rather a grand title and I’m not sure that the book entirely lives up to its promise. But it had some really interesting thoughts about the soul. He says:

Modern neuroscience has no place for the idea of a ‘soul’, understood as some immaterial part of the body. Neither does the Christian Bible. The ‘soul-body’ dualism lives on in popular culture, both secular and Christian. Yet the best view – found in both contemporary neuroscience and Christian Theology – is to think of humanity as a physical unity: a single body, not a ‘body and soul’

I had always suspected that this was the case and I quite like the idea that the soul may have gone missing. It makes a lot more sense of the world we actually live in.

Lent Diary: How is sugar free going?

I realised that I had been sugar free for over a week now. Its been surprisingly easy with no great cravings. Today my low mood lifted and I felt good. So, what do I miss? I miss having a yoghurt at the end of a meal. I miss eating my daughters cakes and biscuits. But I’m beginning to have more energy. Am I losing weight? I’m not sure because our scales are on the blink. I fluctuated 2 kilos in 15 minutes this morning so something is not right.

Lent Diary: Gnosticism and Valentine’s day.

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People don’t usually give me books. This is a shame because, when they do, I usually read them. So, with a box of chocolates out of the question this Valentines, I was pleased to see a couple of book shaped presents on the table this morning. One of them was ‘Creation, Power and Truth’ by Tom Wright, subtitled ‘The Gospel in a world of cultural confusion’. I’m sure I will come back to this in future posts but for now I’m going to focus on one word: Gnosticism.

So, what is Gnosticism? The root of this word is the Greek word for knowledge, gnosis. Gnosticism is the idea that there is a secret knowledge, that, once known will bring wisdom and enlightenment. Inherent in this idea is also that the physical world we live in, including our own bodies, is somehow inferior to the pure life of the intellect. Tom Wright puts this very well:

This leaves you with what the ancient Gnostics were offering: a religion of self-discovery in which one acquires the ‘knowledge’ or gnosis, that one is already a spark of light, and thereby escape from the wicked world of space, time and matter, and enjoy a private and detached spirituality in the present and an escapist heaven hereafter, relating not the wicked creator God, the God of Israel, but to some quite different and higher deity.

I think this is what most people think they want. In our modern age the high priests are often scientists. There is an unspoken idea that people such as Stephen Hawking ‘know the truth’. The real truth is, of course, that most of us know something that other people don’t (and I’m never going to understand modern physics) but it doesn’t make us better or happier or wiser. Jesus in contrast offers us ‘Shalom’. This word is often translated as ‘peace’ which is not wrong but it also means wholeness and health, not just for the individual but for the community and for the world of trees, hills and houses. Which brings me back to our Valentine’s dinner.

Every now and then our Church Hall becomes a ‘Pop up restaurant’. On Saturday night it was transformed by candles and roses. Some members of the congregation were diners, like ourselves and others were waiters or cooks. One family took on the onerous task of creating and serving cocktails (the ‘St Mary’s Sunrise’ was both full of sugar and very alcoholic!). Although we were sitting as a couple our romantic evening was full of other people stopping to talk to us, and we got up and wandered as well. We brought our own wine and then poured a glass for some of the ‘staff’.

There was an air of joyful play acting about the whole evening but, just to put it in context, the same hall had been used at lunchtime to feed homeless and disadvantaged people and earlier for a men’s breakfast. This wasn’t clever or knowing. It certainly wasn’t ‘cool’ but it was real and warm and full of ‘Shalom’.